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Dan Boeckner Starts Fresh with Operators

by Mia Pearson September 1, 2014
Dan Boeckner Starts Fresh with Operators

The pioneer of indie rock has teamed up with some talented musicians to release an electro-pop album.

“Don’t be a dick,” Dan Boeckner was told by his father before embarking on his first tour. This advice has cemented itself in Boeckner’s mind throughout his musical career. Propelled by luck, hard work, and pure talent, the songwriter has made a life of  producing innovative music with bands like Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, and now with his latest electro-pop band, Operators.

Operators began as a quasi-secret band – their debut EP, entitled EP1, wasn’t released directly to the internet. Boeckner explains how this technique “avoids [the album] being shuffled into the colossal library data pile of the internet – at least at the beginning.”

So Operators’ music was exclusive to those who attended live shows instead of having their audience’s first listen stream out from a pair of headphones. He explains that he has “always assumed that seeing something in a live setting is the one thing that music has left. It’s real. You can’t download it, you can’t trade it with somebody, you can’t stream thirty seconds of it and get distracted. You go to the show and you experience, hopefully, some emotional communion with the band. You walk away from that feeling good.”

Dan Boeckner’s fresh start into indie rock has a decidedly electro-twist to it. Photo by Kelly Castro

 Now having finally uploaded to the virtual music world, EP1’s poppy songs have got music lovers dancing. Operators marries Boeckner’s songwriting prowess obtained from years of writing songs, as well as his familiarity of synths and electronics. In other words, the music is tight. It draws from the catchy choruses of Divine Fits and the upbeat electro-pop of Handsome Furs, then delivers darkness and intensity, while also being infectiously danceable. The first track on the album, called “Truth”, is pure dance-pop and extremely rhythmic: the result of combining electronic beats with live drums. There’s an addictive liveliness to the music that’s better understood with a description of the band’s recording process.

When Montreal’s ruthless winter rolled around, Boeckner, synth specialist Devojka, and Divine Fits drummer Sam Brown saddled down in Montreal’s Hotel2Tango to record EP1. The songwriter cites urgency as being integral to a good recording.

“When you first write a song, and you rehearse it enough that you can make it all the way through without making a mistake, but you’re kind of hanging on by the skin of your teeth – that’s the best time to record something,” he says. “There’s this unquantifiable energy behind it that translates into recorded material.”

That unquantifiable energy is perhaps what has fans following Boeckner from band to band. The musician also identifies luck and hard work as primal movers of his success. Growing up in a small town in B.C., the young musician boarded a Greyhound bus to Montreal, his mind in a psychic fog, after living through the personal tragedy of the death of his mother. Boeckner built connections with rising bands in the ’00s, including Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse.

Wolf Parade blossomed in the Montreal music scene with the opening of concert venues like La Sala Rossa and Casa del Popolo, where Wolf Parade was given a shot at playing without any audition. The songwriter describes how essential the opening of these venues was to the development of the Montreal music scene.

“If it wasn’t for those people setting up those venues, there’d definitely be no Arcade Fire or Wolf Parade,” Boeckner says. “By proxy, I don’t think there’d be bands like Grimes, Doldrums, and Magical Clouds. [These venues] really sowed the seeds, [making Montreal] a great place to be young, play music, and get reasonably compensated for it.” He describes Montreal as a city that’s “beating creativity” through new bands putting out great music and holding up the legacy established by bands a decade ago.

Operators is the result of this fruitful Montreal music scene, and Boeckner lived here for twelve years before moving to California. Their music is more cheerful than anything Boeckner’s done with other bands, which is the product of a creative period in the songwriter’s life. The band is free to create without any constraints and “can set up a bunch of old synthesizers and track machines and just wail away live,” Boeckner says.

The musician has taken his father’s advice to heart – he’s definitely not a dick. More than that, the combination of luck, hard work, and pure talent, continue to pay off.

“I’m walking around in Los Angeles right now, it’s a beautiful day, and I’m going out for dinner with my friends here… I never would have imagined that I’d be walking down this street in L.A doing an interview about songs that I wrote.”

Operators are playing at Metropolis on Sept. 2nd.

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